Op-Ed: Living and working in self-isolation – Seeking the ‘Silver lining’ of the COVID-19 precautions


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– By Neels Barendrecht, Chairman of Agility Holdings and Director of Agility Risk Solutions, Singapore

In February I returned from a Singapore business trip. COVID-19 had not yet been declared a pandemic at this time, however in light of the global events unfolding I took the decision to self-isolate for the safety of my colleagues, friends, community and to help protect our country, which at that time had no confirmed cases.

While some may have thought I was being overly cautious, as subsequent events in South Africa and the recent announcement of a national disaster have shown – this was certainly the right and responsible thing to do.

As a business leader, I feel it is my duty to set an example to the rest of the business by diligently following this process, showing respect for our fellow colleagues and citizens. The basics of risk management dictate that we have to be mindful of the potential consequences that wider exposure to this virus could have, and take proactive measures to prevent this as far as possible.

One of the most difficult aspects of my decision to self-isolate at home was that my family who live with me also needed to enter into these self-quarantine measures. Fortunately, my family have been most supportive and understand why these measures are necessary for the greater good. We are also enjoying spending some quality time together for a change.

Our Medical Director of Agility Health, Dr Jacques Snyman, points out that in my circumstances – which will no doubt be applicable to others – self-isolation in its true sense is often not practical unless one lives alone. My family’s possible exposure to any risk of COVID-19 that I could have after travelling means that our self-imposed family quarantine would aim to keep any possible risk associated with the virus “in the family”, and not expose anyone else to possible infection.

I have been asked whether life in isolation is a lonely experience, and to what extent it has impacted my ability to work. Surrounded by my nearest and dearest, who are isolated with me, I am fortunate not to feel “cut off” and thanks to technology, I am mostly as effective in my professional capacity as ever ­– if not more so in some respects because I’m spending less time travelling and commuting, and more time ‘online’.

This said, we have had to cancel a number of family events because we are not to leave the house under any circumstances. We are learning to think differently about things we have taken for granted, and I find myself performing risk analysis in my daily life for simple things that we would have hardly spared a second thought for before the advent of this novel coronavirus.

I now find myself considering whether the benefit balances the risk of ordering fast food for delivery, which by this point in our local outbreak could potentially carry traces of the highly contagious virus. I suspect I will be avoiding buffet tables for some time to come.

There is a silver lining to be found amid the alarm surrounding the coronavirus, and this is that we are all taking on more responsible behaviours that we should have embraced long before the threat of COVID-19.

Just as the threat of Day Zero in the Western Cape made us far more careful about conserving water and respecting this limited resource, the COVID-19 pandemic is giving us a much-needed wake up call when it comes to the importance of hygiene and putting in place contingency measures.

Proper hygiene will not only help us in the current situation, it will help to reduce other infectious illnesses that are all too widespread and also pose significant health risks – particularly to immunocompromised individuals in our country.

The behaviours that we will need to fully embrace to contain the threat of COVID-19, and the agility we as a society will need to develop in response to the unfolding situation, are responsible behaviours that will hopefully stay with us far beyond this crisis.

These are things we should have been doing all along, and if COVID-19 provides the stimulus we need to start practising better hygiene, let us do our best to take these lessons to heart.

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